Sanders' Biggest Problem

So, one of the criticisms I have made of Bernie Sanders is that he doesn't have detailed plans for how he is going to enact his agenda if he is elected. Again, on Friday night, I tweeted: "'How are you going to actually get these things done?' is a legit question I would like answered. It's not sinister. I want to know. That this is being treated as an unreasonable question, or an 'attack,' is absurd in the extreme. I want practical details. I expect them. Congress is intractably dysfunctional at the moment. That's part of why we need 'revolution,' right? So tell me how this shit gets done. I'm not going to pretend that I don't know how government works, or that it doesn't matter that Congress is profoundly broken at the moment."

I want and need to see evidence that Sanders has a plan, and that he is committed to finding a way to work with Congress. I want and need to see evidence of the diplomacy, negotiating skills, preparedness, and competence that is demanded of an effective US president.

This is not just a concern that I have. In their endorsement of Hillary Clinton this weekend, the Des Moines Register noted:
The presidency is not an entry-level position. Whoever is sworn into office next January must demonstrate not only a deep understanding of the issues facing America, but also possess the diplomatic skills that enable presidents to forge alliances to get things done.

By that measure, Democrats have one outstanding candidate deserving of their support: Hillary Clinton. No other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience.

...But Sanders admits that virtually all of his plans for reform have no chance of being approved by a Congress that bears any resemblance to the current crop of federal lawmakers. This is why, he says, voters can't simply elect him president, but must instead spark a "political revolution."

Easier said than done. Congress has the largest Republican majority since the 71st Congress of 1929-31.

A successful Sanders presidency would hinge on his ability to remake Washington in his own image. It's almost inconceivable that such a transformation could take place, even with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress.
And in an interview with Politico, President Obama, without explicitly endorsing Clinton, made much the same point:
In fact, Obama's experiences in office have brought him around to Clinton's hardheaded view of the presidency, first forged during her eight years as first lady. "I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives," he said, echoing the very critique Clinton makes of Sanders.
(That interview is worth a read in its entirety, especially for what the President says about having run against Clinton eight years ago, noting that she had to "do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels. She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her.")

There is legitimate skepticism, good faith skepticism, among lots of left-leaning people of Sanders' contention that his success is contingent on a people-powered revolution.

And yet, when Sanders appeared on Meet the Press this weekend, and host Chuck Todd asked him why he doesn't support reparations, despite the fact that many of his other proposals are just as unlikely to be passed by Congress, the senator deflected back to the same refrain:
What we are trying to do say that in an American democracy, maybe it's a radical idea, but Congress should represent working families and the middle class rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. So Chuck, what I am trying to do now, is change the dynamics of American politics. Bring millions of young people, working-class people, in to stand up and fight for their rights. When you do that, yes, we can raise the minimum wage. We can create jobs. We can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. That is what we have got to do.
There are two big problems with this answer (in addition to the fact that it's not an answer for why he refuses to advocate for reparations): First, it fails utterly to acknowledge the millions of people who are currently engaged. People who contact our legislators, start and sign petitions, blog, tweet, march, protest. Now. Currently. Actively. Is his premise that the millions of us who are currently politically active just aren't effective? But a bunch of people who have never been politically active before will be effective where we've failed? Welp.

Secondly, his assertion that there is no one in Congress who represents anyone other "than just wealthy campaign contributors" shades both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, many of whose members are not beholden to wealthy campaign contributors and who not only advocate on behalf of the middle and working classes but people in poverty.

Sanders continually says his presidency would succeed based on a massive coalition of engaged citizens, but it's tough to build a successful coalition when you're shitting on dedicated progressive activists and the members of Congress who would be most disposed toward working with such a coalition.

This is just straight-up bad politics. And it underscores the limited value of a presidential candidate who "doesn't act like a politician" and "says whatever he wants and doesn't care what anyone thinks."

Sanders' response when Todd pressed him on the issue that he was not getting support from Democrats was possibly even worse:
Todd: Well, but as you know, a lot of Democrats are concerned. And not a single one of them has endorsed your candidacy. I just read through that. Not a single Democratic senator has endorsed your candidacy. Not a single Democratic governor has endorsed your candidacy. What does that tell you?

Sanders: It tells me that we are taking on the political establishment, we're taking on the economic establishment, the financial interest in this country, and we're taking on the corporate establishment. That is what is unique about this race. That in fact, we are trying to make a political revolution bring millions of people into the political process that Washington and all of these politicians have significantly turned their backs on.

So yes, we have the establishment supporting Secretary Clinton. That is not a secret. But the reason that our campaign is generating so much interest and enthusiasm is people think it's time that we take on the establishment. Take on Wall Street. Take on big money interest. And that's why I believe we're doing as well as we are.
Sanders' response to Todd creates a dynamic in which, if any of those Democratic Senators (or governors) had been inclined to endorse him, their endorsement may now be construed as tacit endorsement of his contempt for their colleagues. So anyone who was considering endorsing him now has to weigh whether they want to risk good will to do it. Again: This is just terrible politics.

Further, in that broad proclamation about Senate Democrats, Sanders included, for example, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Sherrod Brown. Whooooops.

At this point, anyone who doesn't support Bernie Sanders is, according to Bernie Sanders, part of the establishment. He is dismissing all criticism and concerns out of hand with sweeping rhetoric and his "political revolution" incantation.

Which, frankly, only underscores the validity of those concerns, as they're rooted in questions about whether Sanders can effectively work with people with whom he shares deep ideological disagreements to get shit done.

Sanders seems to be saying he can't. Or won't.

That is his biggest problem as a candidate, and it is a grave concern. It should be a grave concern to his supporters, who are supporting him expressly because of the promises he's making to them.

Policy proposals are worth less than the paper on which they're printed, if there is no plan for making them happen.

And "a political revolution of millions of people" isn't a plan. Especially not when its leader is busily torching every bridge in sight.

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